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17 December, 2002

Traversing to MacAlpine Hills

"It was like a train wreck," said Linda Welzenbach describing part of our journey. Yesterday was probably the hardest day of this entire expedition. Our safety leader, Jaime Pierce said that it's a good reminder that we're in Antarctica and things are hard here. I could not believe how right he was.

On Sunday, we spent our second day in a row in the tents and were not able to do the traverse. Jaime, Scott, and Carl used the time to scout out part of the route on snowmobile, and came back optimistic about our traverse. The weather cleared and although it was still a little cold (0F), the wind had died down and we could get started. We broke down camp and left at 9:30 AM.

The first few miles went fairly well. We were all dragging a couple of Nanssen Sleds and occasionally, one would tip, and two or three people would gather to right it. But overall, it wasn't too bad. After about eight miles, we reached a cliff of pure ice. We really had to gun our ski-doos to go up the hill, but one still didn't make it on the first try. This put us on high ground that sits above the Lewis Cliffs.

The next several miles consisted of a gradual climb on which my snowmobile started going slower and slower. I felt like I was driving my VW Bus in Denver's rush hour traffic with all the rest of our team clustering up behind me. Dante drove up to see what was the matter and I explained I had no power. I thought it might be just a bad spark plug, but it seems to be more serious. By the time it was getting critical, it was time to begin our downhill leg.

Jaime scouted out our route and by this time it was getting to be late afternoon and we had only gone 30 miles. We thought that we were close, but we still had a ways to go. As we went downhill, we started encountering blue ice with patches of snow. Blue ice is good for finding meteorites, but bad for towing sleds. They take on a mind of their own and go whatever direction they wish. Often they turn sideways, hit snows patches, and flip. I saw some fuel barrels on the horizon and thought this was camp. In the meantime, my food sled flipped twice, along with many others.

We were not at camp, but Nancy and Jaime kept everyone's morale up by letting us know that we were less than an hour and a half from camp, and that we could see our campsite in the distance. All we had to do was go down a rather steep blue ice slope and we would be there shortly.

Jaime went first, and I'm not sure if he steered his sled of snowmobile fuel, or if it steered him. He got it to the bottom and I followed. Shortly, my two sleds were outracing me down the slope and would turn and flip, spraying up a cloud of snow. I could only imagine the pieces of my computer I would find later. Soon, Jaime raced up and helped me right the sled, only to have it happen again.

The rest of the team started down the slope and one sled after another flipped. I'm not sure there was a sled that didn't flip. The sleds are heavy; some nearing 1000 pounds, so it takes many people to right them. In this respect, our team showed real character, as we would race to right the sleds, only to see several others flip.

This went on for a couple of hours. We tried leading them down one by one after seeing several double flips. Finally, it took belaying the sleds down the slope by having one snowmobile act as a brake on the sleds while another led. It took twice as long as normal to get down, but we had only a few more disasters.

Surprisingly, there were few losses in terms of our equipment and food. I think that's a testament to how well the sleds were lashed up. We arrived in camp about 10 hours and 40 miles after we left Goodwin Nunatak, sore, tired, and hungry, but relieved to be here. We got good news over the satellite phone from the Rekki team upon our arrival. They have found close to 60 meteorites, including "several interesting ones," in the few days they have had to search.

Today we mostly established camp and got our power hooked up. I'm happy that my computer is now working with the satellite phone so I don't have to bother Dante to use his anymore. Unfortunately, my ski-doo completely died today, so I might have to ride along with someone else tomorrow when we go searching for meteorites. We were going to use tomorrow to set up a weather station and several rocks with temperature and humidity probes attached to study weathering effects on meteorites. A device called a data logger is attached to each and must be started by a computer. However, the cable that goes from the data logger to the computer never made it to Antarctica, so we're trying to get one flown in from McMurdo. Too bad we can't just run down to Radio Shack.

Tonight, we're looking forward to another call from the Rekki team. I hope their traverses are going better than ours.

Our camp set up at MacAlpine Hills. Notice all the flags?

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